Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #2:

Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #2: 

The Measure Circle’s Amazon Echo/Alexa Round ups are short pieces about the Amazon Echo (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) and Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service which may or may not be expanded later. For more information on the Echo and Alexa, see The Measured Circle’s Echo Central.

New skills and our improved skills page

One of the most important elements for the Amazon Echo and especially for Alexa Voice Service to succeed is the third-party apps which they call Alexa Skills.

I’m going to look at building one myself. I do have some programming knowledge (I’ve taught Visual Basic), but I doubt that it’s that hard to do the actual creation.

That means that the real challenge for developers is going to be to give people a friction-free, enjoyable (or useful) experience.

So far, April Hamilton (of shows real evidence of consideration of the user experience.

You can also currently see and compare two apps which do basically the same thing: Guess the Number and High Low Guessing Game. In both cases, you are guessing a number between 1 and 100. High Low gives you the option of either being the guesser or having Alexa guess…that’s the sort of thing that will make a difference to users.

Another important thing for developers? Error handling. What does Alexa do (in the skill) when you do something unexpected? I’ve gotten trapped in an app…and had another one drop me out because it misunderstood me.

While Amazon has told me you can have as many skills as you want (suggesting they are really stored in the Cloud), you might still want to choose which ones you enable. However, whether you enable it or not, you still have to go through them all in the Alexa app to find the ones you want.

For more information on the apps, see our page:

Alexa Skills

Home automation and Alexa

So many people associate the idea of Alexa with the computer on Star Trek. They even want to use “Computer” as the wake word (instead of “Alexa” or “Amazon”). I was thinking that would cause a lot of false positives when people said the word “computer”…but then I realized that, especially at home, a lot fewer people probably say it than used to say it. Now, if it was named “iPad” or  “Galaxy”, that might be a problem. 😉

The Enterprise’s computer didn’t just answer questions…it controlled the operations of the ship. That’s a good thing, too. I’ve often pointed out to people that on the original series, they were way ahead of us in medicine (although we are catching up) with the tricorder, far ahead of us in transportation with warp drive and the transporter…but considerably behind us on computers (unless, you know, they are super intelligent menaces). When Captain Kirk asks the computer for someone’s identification number, you can actually hear the relays closing! It has to say, “Working…” and then it takes several seconds. But I digress… 😉

You can use the Echo to control your house…but you have to first have the home automation.

I know someone who has a fully automated, Jetsons-style house. I’ve been getting some advice.

I didn’t have any home automation yet, so I took that person’s (who wants to remain anonymous) suggestion and got

GE Link Starter Kit, PLINK-SKIT, Wireless, A19 LED Light Bulb, Pack of 2 (at AmazonSmile)

for about $45 (you could spend thousands of dollars on home automation…even to the point of a

Connected Egg Carton (at AmazonSmile*)

which will let you check on how many eggs you have left while you are on the bus…and whether they are good or not.

What this set does is give you a controller, and two bulbs.

There is no special wiring for the bulb…you just screw it in like you would any other lightbulb.

The controller goes in a regular power outlet, like plugging in a lamp.

The Wink app was very clear. Set up was easy.

The only really weird thing is that the Wink app wasn’t available for the

Amazon Fire Phone (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Now, I know, I’m in the tiny minority in even having a Fire Phone…but you would think that when Amazon promotes the Wink capability of the Echo vigorously that it would work with other Amazon hardware. 😉

I even checked with Wink: you can’t set it up any other way except with an app for iPhones and Android.

Fortunately, Amazon (contrary to what you hear sometimes) is not a closed system, and lets you install apps from “outside sources” on the Fire Phone. I got the Wink app from and was good to go.

I have to say, it is cool to be able to say, “Alexa, turn off the family room” or “Alexa, turn on the library light” and have it just happen.

It’s not always that practical, but it certainly has helped at times. For example, when I’ve got two dogs leashed up and am heading out the door, it’s great to be able to just turn the light off verbally.

If you do want to try out automation, this is a relatively inexpensive way to start. It appears to me that I can’t dim the light through the Echo, but it’s still worthwhile.

Alexa gaining knowledge…and losing it

I’m very happy to report that one of the two hashtags I created for Alexa

has actually had an impact!

Amazon stated to both April F. Hamilton (see above) that our use of #TeachAlexa got them to add things to Alexa. For me it was this:

“Alexa, it’s a bird, it’s a plane…”

Alexa: “It’s Superman.”

For April Hamilton it was

“Alexa, cake or death?”

I’ve actually heard more than one response now. That’s an Eddie Izzard routine, by the way.

Feel free to use it and to encourage other people. They should include @AmazonEcho, so the development team sees it.


I noted quite some time back (and with some surprise) that when I asked Alexa if Bigfoot is real, I got a matter of fact response that, “Yes, Bigfoot is real.”

The Echo sidesteps some questions (like religious ones), and I think that’s understandable.

Now, I’m not saying this is a religious question, but it could be controversial. 😉

Interestingly, Alexa now doesn’t answer the Bigfoot question.

I wonder if somebody had, um, second thoughts about that and made a change.

Gee, I guess that might be an “Echoverup”. 😉

Echophile’s problem #1: diving for the remote to mute the TV before your Echo responds to an Echo commercial

Have questions, comments, or stories about the Echo/Alexa for me or my readers? Feel free to comment on this post.

Join thousands of readers and try the free The Measured Circle magazine at Flipboard 

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the  The Measured Circle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


4 Responses to “Amazon Echo/Alexa Round up #2:”

  1. Harold Delk Says:

    Not a comment nor a reply:

    How do you install an app from an outside source on the Fire Phone? I’ve been unsuccessful trying such apps as the one from my local bank, AMEX, Mint. Weirdly, I’ve had no such problem with my Fire HD. I must be losing it … or missing some simple step.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Harold!

      Sorry, I was thinking I should have mentioned that…although I actually installed the app on my Kindle Fire HDX.

      Flick your phone to your left to get to the settings.


      Applications & Parental Controls – Prevent non-Amazon app installation

      Then, you can turn “App Installation” on.

      Next, you go

      and download their app, then (in this case) the Wink app.

      • Harold Delk Says:

        Thank you; apparently I’m not able to do the same with apps that are from Google Play or stored on my bank’s website. I’ll try again in the morning. Appreciate the help.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Harold!

        As far as Google Play goes, that’s right. Amazon can say it’s okay, but Google Play still needs to recognize your phone as a possible device.

        Check 1Mobile: a lot of the things you want may be there.

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